Mordraith Meets the Duke
The boy Frolon led Mordraith across the parade ground and toward the keep. The Verentian-style engravings were abstract, widely spaced, and favored groups of oblique lines, touching at the ends and occasionally criss-crossing.
“Here's where they are,” said the boy, refering to Sir Rothaint and his sister. An older servant greeted Mordraith at the entrance to a salon and sent the boy away. After getting his name, he introduced Mordraith to the pair.
“Sir Mordraith Brahafen,” he said. “Sir Rothaint and the Lady Rionna.”
They were young and attractive, dressed in fresh garments and looking recently bathed. Rionna was very small compared to the heavy furniture; she reclined on the cushioned bench and held a plate of dainty snacks. Rothaint was well-built, but slender, and sat over the low table in front of them.
Lady Rionna's deep golden eyes sparkled as she scanned Mordraith's large, powerful frame, and gaped in awe at his massive belly.
“A pleasure,” she said. “Waiting for the Duke, too? Please join us, the wine is excellent. It's Ralubian, I think. And there are these tasty little bits of some kind of water creature.” She laughed and took a bite. “I don't what they are but I like them, I think.”
“I'm afraid my dear sister likes the wine much more, though,” said Rothaint, slightly embarrassed.
“Much more,” happily agreed Rionna.
Slightly embarrassed by the exchange Mordraith walked up to the girl.
“M'Lady. Sir,” Mordraith nodded politely at each in turn. His gut gave an expectant twinge as he looked at the plate beside Rionna and his eyes found it hard to decide what to concentrate on, golden eyes or seafood. True to form though, Mordraith picked one of the intriguing little things (seafood, not eyes!) and popped it into his mouth and licked his fingers absentmindedly. Mmm.
“I heard there was some trouble with the Order of Law as I came here?” Mordraith turned to sir Rothaint while helping himself to a glass of wine and another of those pale little things.
“We're with you!” said Rothaint. “No sooner had we rode through the town gate than we began hearing rumors of trouble and hierophants gone bad. I would certainly like to be in on this. Those hierophants have always made me feel nervous. They secret themselves away in their dark halls and study ancient scrolls. Who needs to learn from the dead? They've got one, now. He came here this morning, escorted by guards, of course. I'm sure they'll have him hanging before sundown.”
Rionna rolled her eyes. “You sweet, sweet lout,” she laughed. “Don't mind my brother. He is fearless in battle — not that he's ever been in one — but he makes a fine show in the tournaments — or so he's told me since I've never seen him fight in one. Show him letters, though, and he cringes like a panicked gluck.”
“And none of that is true!” complained Rothaint. “If she weren't so drunk”, he said to Mordraith, “she would be full of nothing but praise!”
Rionna sighed. “That's because I take pity on you. Yes, I'm afraid your sister is the only lady who will ever have the stomach to give you praise.”
She turned to Mordraith. “So tell me,” she said, raising the dish of hors d'ouevres to her chest, so that they were framed by her pert breasts. “Do you like these dainty little treats?”
“Uhrm, these are quite good,” Mordraith said, swallowing. “I don't think I've tasted anything quite like it before.” He felt his face begin to burn as his eyes wandered between her face, breasts and plate. He felt like the country bumpkin she must think he was. Demoralized, he quickly changed the subject and unconsciously touched the pin he was given when he joined the Order. This is something he'd begun to do when he felt uncertain or nervous, a mannerism he was only half-aware of.
“There's more to it than old scrolls, I suspect. My guess is that this trouble is part of something bigger. Surely, it can't be a coincidence that the King is dying, that the Duke of Brissenmor has gathered a large force to fight off rumoured beastmen and this hunt for hierophants all happen within a few weeks?”
Mordraith glanced at the girl to judge her reaction and grabbed a snack to munch on thoughfully for a moment, not sure how much he should tell them. Did they know what happened at Goerbest? Probably not, or they would have heard about my brother. At the thought of his death Mordraith's anger returned and it was in a tight voice he predicted: “We're heading for a civil war, and we are all just pieces on the board.”
“You're right!” said Rothaint. “Those hierophants are up to something even more sinister than I suspected. We just finished a civil war! How dare they start another!”
“Oh, please be quiet, Roth,” said Rionna. She looked at Mordraith apologetically. She watched him fingering the pin. “What's that? It's nice.”
“When the time comes, I shall be in the front ranks,” exclaimed Rothaint, leaning even further forward. “And my blade will glisten with the blood of ... er ... did you say beastmen?”
Rionna threw back her head and laughed. “Men are beasts, you know, dear.” Turning to look at Mordraith she said, “Don't you agree? I can see you being a beast, hunting your prey, fighting over the kill, ravishing the women of your enemies ...”
Rothaint's enthusiasm threw Mordraith a bit — could he really be that dumb? Mordraith gave him a quizzical look uncertain if he was making some strange joke, but made no comment.
“What? Oh, I'm sworn to Crohelm, this is his symbol as you can see,” Mordraith said in reply to the girl's question and leaned over to show her.
“Yes, beastmen — and I'm sure you'll get your chance sooner than later.” Mordraith found Rothaint's eagerness both amusing and disconcerting, but was surprised the man allowed his sister's outrageous flirting. Her comments about him being a beast ravishing women left Mordraith speechless and very uncomfortable.
“Hrm, I suppose war makes some men beasts,” Mordraith began inanely and regreted it instantly. “Eh, I don't mean to pry, but are you here to see the Duke as well?”
Rionna nodded happily, her mouth full of food. She was about to say something, when the double doors opened wide and people began to emerge.
Rothaint jumped up. “Ah-hah! Here we go!” Rionna hastened to compose herself.
From Mordraith's position he could watch the men approach. Preceding them was a servant. Then there was Duke Hastan an Dethrun, with his crown and finery, and the well-dressed man next to him must have been the governor. A trio of lesser notables trailed closely behind. They were accompanied, distantly, by a quartet of silent types. Behind them a man in non-descript clothing and a sunhat that hid his face, was accompanied by a fresh-looking younger man, lean and muscular. They diverted toward the exit before passing the salon, but not before Mordraith caught the eye of the man in the sunhat.
Not looking very prelector-like, but apparently not a prisoner either. He frowned in surprise when he saw Mordraith, but hesitated only long enough to whisper in his companion's ear, then they disappeared down the hall.
The duke, the governor, and their retinue passed by the salon, oblivious of the three young adults.
Rothaint shook his head in protest. “What is this?”
The servant, who had been leading the party, appeared at the door. “We are retiring to the courtyard. The duke wishes you to join us.” Then he scurried off. Rothaint and Rionna, indignant, picked themselves up and head out of the salon.
Relieved, Mordraith nodded for the servant to lead the way. On the way out he managed to grab a few of the snacks, which he plopped into his mouth. He wiped his fingers on his trousers and gave the still chewing Rionna a little smile as he gestured for her brother to come. Interesting girl, she seems to have a healthy appetite. Mordraith gave her a cautious look; and she doesn't show it. Now, what is that Cludaen up to?
Mordraith couldn't help wondering. Cludaen had probably heard something about the new policy regarding the Order of Law and came here to try to straighten things out. Or did he? No, that would risk spending quite a bit of time here, time we can't afford to waste so it probably has to do with something else. Does he have some sort of contact here, some informant?
The salon was a waiting area in the southwest corner of the Reception Hall, by the west guard room. The governor's party exited from the room behind and to the west of east of the dais. Cludaen went down the east hall toward the chapel. The Duke and other notables headed out the entrance.
Mordraith decided to pretend not to recognise the prelector until he gave a sign that everything was okay. This sort of duplicity annoyed him, but it could be important. He slowed his pace slightly to let the girl catch up with him and repeated his question.
“Oh yes, pardon me,” answered Rionna, who had become transformed into the pinnacle of politeness, though she couldn't help but stumble a bit down the steps of the grand entrance.
Servants have already setup some lawn chairs and tables in the green patch of grass around the corner. It is partly shaded by the pre-noon sun. The Duke gets to sit in a wooden chair with comfy cushions, surrounded by servants and followers.
“Court is in session,” he announced. “Bring on the wine!” A servant filled his cup. “Where's my scribe?” Another servant, brush and writing board in hand, stepped forward. “And I need a table. With my maps. They help me think.” A servant, who had been carrying a set of large scrolls, unrolled them over a nearby table, then set heavy weights upon them to keep them down. The duke peers at the map, then jabbed a finger a few times around a particular spot, near a river. “See that? Two good castles and a strong town. Plus two more castles on either flank. Strength, that's what we have.”
As if he had just finished something, the Duke turned his attention to the small gathering of people, some of whom have just joined. “Okay, who's first?”
The servant at his left bowed and said, “Sir Rothaint and his sister, the Lady Rionna.”
Without missing a beat the Duke said, “Yeah, yeah, we'll talk later. Who's next?”
“Sir Mordraith Brahafen,” said the servant.
“Brahafen?” The Duke raises an eyebrow. “From Riudsech, I take it.”
Mordraith gave Rothaint a curious glance before he answered the duke, why did he get to talk first?
“Orchbroe is my father, M'lord,” Mordraith Brahafen confirmed as he strode forward and presented himself to the duke in proper fashion. From the duke's comments it seemed likely he had heard something about what's going on; was he preparing his defence — against whom? Mordraith didn't quite know what to say, and was beginning to doubt the wisdom in coming here, but he had to say something. “Er, I heard there was some trouble with members from the Order of Law?”
“Good old boy, that Orchbroe,” says Duke Hastan Dethrun. “Why yes, I remember you now; when you were this tall. Never expected you to get so big; just like your daddy.
“Well, well. You tell me about these hierophants.” He paused, raised a hand in dismissal. “No, don't. I have been informed already. So tell me, why aren't you with the other knights of Riudsech, fighting off the invading beastmen? Are you a traitor?”
Mordraith began to realize that most of the people gathering around were armed guardsmen ...
Mordraith stared at the duke, rocked by the insult before he managed to regain some of his composure.
“No M'lord, my family was excused because of the murder, I'm sure your sources told you of that too.” Heat crept into his voice at the memory.
“Perhaps we should talk more privately?” He continued after a moment, trying not to show how nervous he was becoming. This was a stupid idea, I shouldn't have come here, he thinks while fingering the pin unknowingly. He was out of his depth here he realized and sent a silent plea to Crohelm for guidance.
The Duke thought for a moment, regarding Mordraith with a dismissive eye. “Certainly we may talk privately, but it will be with you on the bad side of a locked door. At the moment have no patience for your excuses. Guards, escort this knight to the `guestrooms'.”
A trio of armed men moved forward to surround him.
Mordraith stared unbelieving at the Duke before frustration turns into rage. In blind fury he lashed out towards the closest guard with his fist, shouting, “Crohelm!” The world shrank to include only him and those in his path. An odd sensation came over Mordraith, he felt himself rushing towards the exit, raging, preparing to remove any obstacle and at the same time coldly analyzing the situation. He felt like he was both himself and his brother. His bother's spirit was with him, and was prepared to kill in order to get him out of this place. Myself, I am preparing to die.
Inflamed with the spirit of his brother, Mordraith slammed the guard aside, disarmed another, then ran across the courtyard before they could react. As guards approached to intervene, he brushed them aside like vermin. Near the gate, he grabbed the reins of a gardell and tossed its surprised rider from the saddle. Mordraith mounted the fine gardell and raced out of the castle.
Still in a state of concentrated fury, Mordraith rides down towards the inn. He slowly come to his senses, amazed at the stunt he just pulled and the fact that he is both alive and free, and shocked at his display. When he has put a bit of distance between himself and the castle, Mordraith slows to a more leisurely pace to gain some time to think before he reached the inn. He needs the stuff he put in there, his armour, his gardell etc but he dares not waste any time. Cursing softly, Mordraith urges his mount forward towards the gates, hoping to get there before word gets out to stop him. He was quite prepared to fight his way out, if he seemed to have a reasonable chance of succeeding. If not, he'd leave the gardell in an alley and make for the meeting point at the Ralbadell, skulking as much as he could in the shadows.
We shouldn't have gotten side-tracked by events here in Stade, Mordraith realized now. My only hope now is to make for the nearest inn on our way to Prince Durn, and that my friends find me there. And that Cludaen hasn't betrayed us somehow.
The Vittle Market was quite crowded, but Mordraith made it through very quickly. The gate was open, and there was a stream of people heading in and out, occasionally halted by the guards there. Mordraith saw this from the intersection that led to the inn. At about this time, though, a horn blared loudly from the citadel, and the guards at the gate stiffened to alertness.
At the alarm he steered his gardell into a side street looking for a quiet spot to leave the beast in. He made his way back to the alley where he had parted company with his companions, keeping an eye out for inquisitive guards. The inn seemed deserted by the guards, so he approached the place, and after looking in through a window or two, entered and quickly got his gear.
Mordraith caught Drig's dad and asked him to let anyone, probably a Ralubian, take away his gardell and any stuff he couldn't bring with him, whether his or his friends'. He snapped a coin in two and gave him one of the halves.
“Anyone who shows up with the other half, please help him.” He hesitated before adding, “If Cludaen shows up, tell him to meet us at the second inn on the way to our goal.” Mordraith clasped the man's hand firmly, “You're a good man, like your son.” He grabbed a handful of coins without really counting and shove them towards him. Before stepping out into the alley again he wrapped his sword in a piece of cloth and carried it in his hand.
Mordraith left as quickly as possible and walked up to the door where he saw Tam and Drig enter the Ralbadell, praying silently he'd find them there.